Kamala Harris’s campaign kicked off with a resounding boom in Oakland, CA on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day back in January. Roughly 20,000 people attended her announcement rally that day, and she was soon regarded as a force to be reckoned with in the 2020 Presidential Primary. Yet here we stand in December of the same year and she’s already out of the race. How can things change so drastically in less than a year? The easy answer is, given Harris’s identity, her race and gender. There’s no doubting that misgynoir still heavily influences our political process and daily lives in America, thus making it even more difficult for a black woman such as Senator Harris to be elected to the highest office in the land. There’s also no doubting that Billionaires have an unfair advantage in their candidacies for President as Harris alluded to in her video announcement. However, Kamala conquered these savage beasts early on in the race as she was polling amongst the top tier candidates in the race. The question now must be, what changed?
Before she even announced, the Democratic Party’s establishment was fawning over the mere possibility of her entering the race. Mainstream media pundits and strategists felt that based on her identity and her recent strong opposition of Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments she would carry over very well with voters. This is what pokes a hole in the idea that her race and sex were nothing but hurdles for her in her Presidential run. That logic ignores the fact that many voters and strategists within the party desire a woman of color to lead them. Many people within this country believe that representation matters and backed Kamala Harris as a result. This notion is reflected in her rather favorable poll numbers when she first entered the race. In other words, she was at an advantageous starting point, and only needed to further build on it to have a chance at the nomination.
We cannot discuss only her poll numbers early on in her campaign without also discussing her policy positions. Before she entered the race, she co-sponsored the Senate Medicare-For-All Bill. The most progressive healthcare bill in the history of American politics which moves America to a single-payer Healthcare system. The Healthcare Bills were introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal and in the Senate by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. However, by July she had completely bailed on Medicare-for-all and opted instead to put forth her own version of the bill that preserved a role for the private insurance industry. Policy flips do two things that are rarely covered by mainstream political pundits. One, they complicate things for voters by forcing them to view another policy proposal that they must now compare to the old one. More importantly, it makes it difficult for voters to be able to trust the candidate because they’ve spent months claiming to support something only to change their minds. If they are already “pivoting” in the primary, then to voters, there’s no telling what they’ll end up supporting or opposing under the pressure of the general election.
It’s worth providing historical context to this moment. For black voters, they had just witnessed the first black President in the history of our country. Most of us felt as though we’d never witness this moment in our lifetimes. Yet, the aftermath of Barack Obama’s Presidency left us, in many ways, worse off than we were before he entered office. This was undoubtedly in the minds of black voters when they considered the campaign of Senator Harris. Like Obama, Harris refused to commit to specific targeted policies involving Black Americans. As a result, she lost much of their support. Is this unfair, as favoring reparations is definitely NOT a mainstream view in the Democratic Party? Most definitely. However, even Jewish candidate for President Bernie Sanders was criticized for his opposition to reparations. The difference lies in their responses to that criticism. Sanders put forth the most ambitious racial justice and educational proposal packages in Presidential campaign history. Kamala, opted more towards means tested; business as usual approaches. This also brought more attention to her record as a prosecutor.
Mass incarceration is possibly the #1 societal factor holding back the black community. As a result, many black voters see defeating it as their number one priority when figuring out who to vote for. This created a paradox for black voters when it came to Kamala Harris. Not only was she both a District Attorney and Attorney General in the state of California, but her record in both of those offices is marred with several instances of dishonest actions and morally bankrupt cover ups. Many activists in the state of California had been questioning Harris’s record for several years. However, it wasn’t until Tulsi Gabbard brought up her record at the July Democratic Debate that this information became common knowledge amongst the American electorate. To make matters even worse, Harris did not even attempt to respond to the claims made by Gabbard. She simply ignored them and talked about how she was a, “top tier candidate”. Did Kamala’s race and gender force her to continue racist criminal justice practices? Did her identity meeting at the intersection of misogyny and racism force her to be complicit in illegal coverups? Did overcoming the evils of misogynoir force Kamala to arrogantly neglect the issues of black people and their oppression at the hands of the American Criminal Justice system? The answer to all of these questions are obviously no, and that fact combined with the ambiguity of her policy stances doomed her to fail. Other notable candidates in the race have a signature policy/trait of their campaign that voters can quickly point to as reasons why they support or do not support their campaigns. Joe Biden clings to having served as Barack Obama’s Vice President. Elizabeth Warren has her Wealth Tax. Bernie Sanders has his famous Medicare-for-All Bill. Tulsi Gabbard is known for being compltetely opposed to regime-change-wars and Andrew Yang has popularized the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) with his Freedom Dividend policy. Whether or not one supports these candidates or their policy is not the point. The point is, they are synonymous with their key issue. What was Kamala’s key issue? Was it something that she, “evolved”, on overtime i.e. just began to support right before the primary? Was it something that she eventually settled on after months of flip-flopping? In the end, she did not do a good enough job of having a clear and focused vision for her campaign and that is a main reason that it failed. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, the old adage goes.
From the bombastic opening rally in Oakland; to that unforgettable moment in the June debate when Kamala Harris hammered former Vice President Joe Biden for his stances on busing, Harris’s campaign seemed destined for success early on. In spite of and because of her identity as a black woman, she soared to heights many other politicians can only dream of reaching. Yet here we are in the first week of December and Senator Harris has abruptly withdrawn from the race before the year 2020 is even officially here. She cited financial struggles and not seeing a pathway to victory as reasons to suspend her campaign this past Monday. Due to her early success, she planned an ambitious campaign that was among the top tier in the race. Unfortunately, she ended up running an extremely dysfunctional campaign and fizzled out much earlier than experts assumed. This combined with her questionable at best prosecutorial record doomed her to fail. All things considered, it is at best, naive, and at worst, dishonest, to state that her campaign failed mainly because of the constituency’s rejection of her race and gender. Representation does matter, but what matters even more is having a committment to fighting with various minorities in their quest for justice. Overtime, Kamala Harris proved to fail voters from this aspect dooming her campaign and making her a footnote in history.